Arlington is more than a thousand miles from Pittsburgh, but you would never know it inside Bobby V’s Sports Gallery Café on Sunday afternoons.
“Here We Go, Steelers!” chant more than four dozen die-hard fans, proudly wearing their black and gold jerseys in the hometown of America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys.
Steelers Nation stakes its claim to the back of the south Arlington restaurant whenever its team takes the field, munching on nachos, their eyes locked on a dozen televisions as they wave their yellow Terrible Towels.
“It’s a pretty neat atmosphere; it’s like being at a game,” says Bobby V’s manager Aaron Sprague. “The Steelers travel well, they have fans everywhere they go.”
The black and gold squad has been meeting at Bobby V’s since Sprague started working there in 2008, he says. Some say they’ve been coming for 14 years or more. No one seems to know because there’s no official group, no dues and no membership. There’s no newsletter, no Facebook page or even a roster. People just show up, 50 or more every week, after learning about the watching party from friends or total strangers.
“It’s all word of mouth. I don’t know any of these people outside of here,” says Jennifer Sosenko McCool of Mansfield.
Pittsburgh native Kathi Mulkerie of Arlington says Steelers Nation takes care of its own. “If I see somebody in Walmart with a Steelers jersey, I tell them we have a club,” she says.
While Cowboys games are broadcast on local television channels, Steelers fans need to buy the NFL Sunday Ticket on DIRECTV to watch their team every week. But watching at home alone isn’t the Pittsburgh way, say the Bobby V’s crowd.
“You miss the camaraderie, the excitement of the crowd,” Mulkerie says. “We win together and we lose together. That’s the thing about Steelers fans. Even if they lost every game, there would still be this many fans.
“Some of these people have children who have grown up in the Steelers Club,” she adds.
And they are enthusiastic, some might even say rowdy, depending on who you ask, notes Sprague. “They’re loud, they cheer and get into it,” he says.
Mulkerie breaks down the Steelers crowd lingo.
The Bobby V’s squad chants “Move the chains!” when the Steelers get a first down, shouts “You can put it on the board, YEAH!” for a field goal, sings “Here We Go!” for a Pittsburgh touchdown, and if the other team doesn’t make a first down, they yell “Get off the field!”
“They do it in Pittsburgh,” Mulkerie explains. “It makes us feel at home.”
A group of Denver Broncos fans also gathers at Bobby V’s for weekly watching parties, says Sprague, but the Steelers squad is larger and louder. And the black and gold swarm easily outnumbers any Dallas Cowboys fans who might be trying to watch the hometown team.
Ronnie Rocha of Arlington was wearing his Roy Williams jersey and trying to watch the Cowboys game with his family on a recent Sunday afternoon. Roars from the back of the restaurant were impossible to ignore, but Rocha says he didn’t mind.
The Steelers and Cowboys aren’t scheduled to play this year, but Rocha admits he wouldn’t be happy if he had to listen to the Pittsburgh fans cheer if they were beating his Cowboys.
“I’m OK with it, but would I like it – no,” he says. “I am a Cowboys fan, but I am a football fan. I love that team unity. I’m all about enthusiasm. I am not a Steeler fan by any means.”
Bobby V’s Steelers Nation has bonded over its love of the team and the community that surrounds it.
“It doesn’t matter where we live or how our team is doing, you can’t take the Pittsburgh out of a person,” McCool says.
“And I’ve tried,” says her husband, Brad McCool.
“It’s the Pittsburgh attitude,” he says. “When the steel mills started to close, they rallied around the Steelers. There is no better fan base.”
While his wife grew up in West Virginia, just across the state line from Pittsburgh, Brad McCool grew up in Dallas and started following the Steelers because they beat the Dallas Cowboys “more than anybody” when he was growing up.
In the ‘70s, the Steelers beat just about everybody, bringing home four Super Bowl titles in six years in 1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980. They played in four more, winning in 2006 and 2009, to earn the most Super Bowl championships of any NFL team.
All those wins have earned the Steelers fans from everywhere.
“You’d be surprised at how many of these people have never been to Pittsburgh,” Mulkerie said. “They’re from Ohio and San Antonio.”
But most of the Terrible Towel twirlers are displaced Pennsylvania natives looking for a taste of home.
Mary Lou Masters of Grand Prairie moved from Sharon, Penn., 17 years ago, but she’s still a die-hard Steelers fan. “It’s in the blood,” she says. “In the womb, I was a Steelers fan.”
She loves the community, the crowd and the “excitement of the game” at Bobby V’s.
“It’s like being 17 or 18 years old and going out on a Friday or Saturday night,” Masters says.
Mulkerie dresses for game day with a black and gold Steelers t-shirt, dangling Steelers earrings and a Steelers dogtag that doubles as a beer opener.
“I don’t drink,” she admits, “but I’ve always been this big fan. I usually have on my bracelet.”
Mulkerie and her husband, Tom, have lived in Texas for almost 25 years, but she’s still a Pittsburgh girl and a Steelers fan, and she has no plans on changing.
“We’ll probably be Texans until we die, but that’s still home,” she says.